Issac Evans has left school and the cloying bustle of the city for the supposed peace of rural life. He dreams of escaping the work a day world for a time as Thoreau did, but Isaac must still earning a living and so he takes a job as a lock-keeper. Aside from his duties on the lock, Isaac is left alone to read and contemplate the natural world.
Lenert Tessmer is alone in a strange land, separated by a language he doesn’t understand and worn down from being used by one person after another. All he has is a job as a hoggee along the canal. When Lenert breaks his leg, his employer has little sympathy and he is abandoned into the care of an initially disgruntled Isaac, who assumes Lenert will disrupt his contemplative existence.
During his long weeks of healing, Lenert and Isaac begin first a friendship and then a romance. Both men are enchanted by one another, but the reality of the outside world threatens to disrupt their comfortable life. With work on the lock coming to an end, Lenert and Isaac must determine if they can forge a future together or if circumstance will force them apart.
The Lock-Keeper’s Heart is, on the whole, an interesting historical with an unusual setting and two main characters who I found a tad lacking.
In light of the recent incident on the Panama Canal, I found The Lock-Keeper’s Heart somewhat timely reading. Most modern day lock systems are a massive, automated process and it’s hard to think of the same thing being done by hand a 150 years ago. But the author does a good job of describing the realities of canal work, as well as acknowledging that, as of the 1870s, the railroads were replacing canals as the primary form of shipping goods. This historical aspect of the book was one I enjoyed and the entire work has a strong sense of time and place.
Lenert and Isaac aren’t bad characters. They’re moderately developed and have a decent connection with one another. Lenert especially has had a rough go and I felt some sympathy for the both of them. But Isaac comes off as a bit precious and more than once I wanted to tell him to just grow up. His attempt to copy Thoreau is laughable as he works on exceptionally busy lock and deals with people all the time. He’s hardly roughing it (not that Thoreau did either), but his interactions with nature are pretty banal. I found that I never really connected with either character and I think that’s because both were lacking in emotional depth. They certainly had emotional encounters, but I wasn’t invested in them. One last note: there is, in my opinion, an excessive use of words like jack and rod — basically a lot of penis talk. Which one expects some of in a romance, but it felt repetitive and more than once I was left rolling my eyes.
The Lock-Keeper’s Heart was a decent book. The historical setting was the highlight for me and while I never really came to like Lenert or Issac, they weren’t entirely poorly rendered and other readers might ending enjoying them. So if you like history, or at least books with unusual settings and occupations, The Lock-Keeper’s Heart might be a good fit.